Turkistan

I'd frankly feel a bit embarrassed by a tomb this size.

The mausoleum of Kozha Akhmed Yasui in Turkistan is Kazakhstan’s sole entry in Central Asia’s Blue Dome Hall of Fame (currently dominated by Uzbek specimens), but a good effort, I think. I like the rose garden.

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Midwinter city breaks in all the wrong places: Afghanistan

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque and Shrine of Hazrat Ali, Mazar-i-Sharif.

So this episode takes place back in February, when I was tangled up in the forest of red tape and consular interviews and demands for parental and spousal permission that accompanies any attempt to gain travel documents for Central Asian countries. In this bureaucracy-befuddled state, a minibreak sounded just the ticket, and location-wise the fact that you could get the relevant travel documents in a couple of hours with no questions asked was all a country needed to recommend itself to me. Uzbekistan has only one neighbour which is so enthusiastic about handing out visas, and so it was that within a couple of days of hatching this brilliant plan I found myself eyeing the Uzbek-Afghan border post with a vague sense of apprehension and wishing that I would think my decisions through a bit more thoroughly sometimes.

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Hamams, Imams and chadors: Iran again

A shopping trip in Mashhad.

OK, I suck at travel blogging. I’m sitting on no fewer than six half-finished posts including Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and India, which were months ago. But! I am stuck in Tblisi waiting for visas (Kazakhstan, the promotional literature that your consul showered me with assures me you are A Beacon Of Progress! I find this hard to believe when your visa application process is more convoluted than, to take an example at random, Afghanistan’s.) in a hostel with free wireless, so that means spam time. First up is Iran, which had plenty of good bits which did not involve police stations.

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Notes from the golden road

Getting in on the blue dome action in Samarkand.

I am writing this at the uncivilised hour of 6.30 am, sulking slightly about the fact that once again my alarm clock has been pre-empted by Tashkent’s unique version of a wakeup call. This is provided by a group of ladies who come into town every morning, bringing fresh dairy products from the countryside which they sell from old coke bottles by the side of the road on which my block of flats is located. I would ordinarily not object to this entirely harmless activity, but these ladies have failed to endear themselves to me by their habit of standing under my window and advertising their wares. Being woken daily at 6 am by bellows of “QATTIQ! QAIMOQ!” (Uzbek for “yoghurt” and “cream”. Say the sound “k”. Now say it again, except imagine you’re being sick halfway though. Congratulations, you’ve just pronounced the Uzbek letter “q”.) does nothing for my mental state, and I have not yet been able to overcome my ire (nor mild hygiene-related concerns) to the extent necessary to actually sample their produce, although I am assured that a) it is delicious and b) I am coddling my digestive system. I am roundly mocked here for my Western tendency to buy most things (and all my meat and dairy) in the supermarket rather than the bazaar, but old habits die hard and I just can’t bring myself to be enthusiastic about a piece of sheep that has been lying about in this heat for any length of time.

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Medrassas, marriage and mulberries: Bukhara

All thousand-year-old tombs need a bonus big wheel.

At the moment I am passing my time with my attempts to navigate my way through the forest of suffixes and particles which is the Uzbek language, picking up on the way jolly little sentences such as “Malika and Karima are silkworm breeders” and “Does your elder brother labour in the cotton fields today?”. I cannot but seriously respect a language which not only contains a “future tense of doubt” but also a “past tense of hearsay”. It is also full of sounds that English-speakers (well, me, anyway) appear to be quite incapable of producing (mostly extremely guttural variants of the letter K) that leave one with a very sore throat after a two-hour lesson. I am however in no position to complain to my friends here about the quirks of Uzbek, since they communicate with me primarily in English or French (now there’s a language the knowledge of which I did not think would come in handy in Uzbekistan, but the most plentiful breed of tourist here is indeed French, which make it popular for Uzbeks to learn) which in many cases is their fourth language (the other three generally being Uzbek, Tajik and Russian). Apparently I need to man up and reach for the strepsils.

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